Largely Political (originally published 1917)
As the printer and his neighbour the Sculptor were having a little talk in the early morning, an old man, carrying a broadish, strongly-made box strapped across his back, passed down the road towards the railway station. The Printer smiled sympathetically as he watched the old one pad briskly along with the carriage of one who in spite of his beard and threescore and ten years still walked like a boy out for the day. Apart from the sympathy one feels with (not for!) old men, the Printer recalled his first and only meeting with the old pedlar. They had both been waiting the train at Littlefield, and the box, with its American cloth cover nailed down with brass studs, had attracted the printer’s attention. The pedlar stood apart, and as the printer sat down on the long, broad set which held the box he had said with a smile ‘What a nobby box! If ever I take to the road this is just the kind of box I shall have.’ The old man had smiled taking this blarney just as it was meant to be taken, and they had got into lively crack as to the pedlar’s diocese.
As the two neighbours looked out after him today the stonecutter’s face opened in a responsive grin.
‘Ay, that aul’ mannie an’ anither lad had been drinkin’ somewye oot shoor; an’ they had cast oot, an’ the ither lad was gaunt i strick ‘im.’ The aul’ mannie put doon his box on the road, an’ stood up upon’t; an’ says he: ‘Ye widna strick a man in his ain shop, wid ye?’
As they talked there entered a tall, clean-shaven young chemist who had been dispenser in a great London house and had also followed his calling in Italy. He had lately succeeded to his father’s business in St Congan’s, and there being little else to think about in the town, his talk usually turned to business. The subject of artificial teeth cropped up, about which the Sculptor developed views of his own.
Chemist: Ye should get a set o’ false teeth, man, an’ be able to chew yer food properly, an’ nae be troubled wi’ indigestion.
Sculptor: Div ye seel false teeth?
Chemist: Na, na. It’s a pure masonic, philanthropic suggestion.
Sculptor: Och, man. I could easy get a set o’ false teeth for naething. The like o’ me ‘at works aboot graveyairds could easy come be a set o’ false teeth. The aul’ gravediffer got a row for the upper jaw oot o’ Miss Gregory’s aul’ grave, wi’ a lot o’ gold aboot them. Then he got a row for the lower jaw oot o’ aul’ Grassies lair. He offered me the twa sets; but na, na, says I, I’ll jist stick ti the droon’t loaf. Jock Williamson bocht a dandy outfit o’ teeth in Aiberdeen; bit he was fear’t ti pit them in. He fancied ‘imsel’ forgettin’ aboot them, an’ gaunt i bed wi’ them in, an’ them fai’in doon an’ chokin’ ‘im i’ the nicht.
Printer: I knew a man whose teeth used to fall down when he spoke and he was fond of making speeches. And I knew another old man who used to take out his teeth before he started to eat. So that neither of them could have had much use of their teeth. They would have just been ornamental in their case.
Sculptor: Fin Jock Williamson brocht his hame fae Aiberdeen he bung’t them intil a drawer; an’ I suppose they’re there yet.
The Readiness is all.
The Printer was passing along the top of a high bank to his midday meal when he noticed a jolly acquaintance down in the road below.
‘I’ll tak the high road, an ye’ll tak the low road,’ he chanted.
‘Ay, but I’ll be at the Station afore ye!’ came the quick answer.
‘I want you to post the Pelican to…’ and here the lady gave an address in Derbyshire. The Printer took down the name and pocketed the four shillings with a smile. This was the fourth order he had booked that week, and in two of the cases it had been a reader paying for the magazine to go to someone else. This he regarded as a sincere form of compliment.
‘I was a great believer in the Sunday Judge at one time,’ continued the lady; ‘but I got tired of its protectionism, its change of star artistes, and its want of any policy except the policy of purveying novelties and catering all the time for the average man.’
‘Why don’t you include the average woman?’ asked the man behind the desk.
The Lady: ‘Oh there’s nobody to cater for her in decent journalism. I suppose her custom isn’t worth having. Anyhow, why should she be specially catered for? The truth is the truth: the facts are either material or they aren’t. Why should the form of presentment be different? If a paper is a good man’s paper it should be a good woman’s paper.
Printer: You don’t want ‘chiffon’ and fashion news, then?
Lady: No, nor domestic hints, nor a love story about a dark, bearded man of fifty who is in love with a girl of twenty-five.
(She was on the sensible side of forty herself, and a personable, buxom woman, with a suggestion of temper about her quick, dark eyes that would probably be belied on experience. She was still a bacheloress, a busy and capable teacher in a south-country school, and with her plump figure, good looks, and good taste, she had probably been a little difficult to please; perhaps too busy and interested to think much about men.)
Printer: Are you not a suffragist, then, in these days when even a Tory Government accepts Votes for Women?
Lady: Oh, don’t talk about it. I should only be too pleased if I thought women were fit to have the franchise – if I even thought they were likely ever to take a decent interest or share in politics. But – well, I have been a reader of the Pelican for a long time now: and if I had been in any doubt about women suffrage, your articles would have confirmed me on the anti side. By the way, you haven’t been writing anything about it of late.
Printer: No, what’s the use of setting up a flag of negation? They’re to have the last of the franchises, right enough; and here we can but Wait and see. I don’t suppose they’ll really do much harm.
She: But you pointed out that already they do harm. You told us long ago about the reactionary way in which they vote in municipal elections.
He: Yes, but that’s only in the few places where any harm can be done. In most towns there’s so little to choose between one municipal candidate and another. In municipal politics there are no party divisions in Scotland at all, nor need there be: for Liberal and Tory are both non-progressive in municipal politics. In English towns there is no difference either – except where the Socialists come in with their ‘live’ programme, and then there’s something to fight about. In Bradford, Leicester, Manchester, Leeds, Huddersfield there are two sets – Individualists on the one side, who want no more Collectivism; Socialists on the other who believe we are at the beginning, not the end, of the Socialising process. In Yorkshire we used to have elections fought on such questions as Municipal Coal, Milk, Infirmaries, Housing – in short, the gradual extension of the sphere of Colleive control till private enterprise got edged out of the field.
Lady: How interesting and good! And the women voted against things like that?
Printer: Well, they did – in the result. But the pitiful thing is that they did not so much vote consciously against these things, but only against the men who represented them. As a matter of fact, they liked the ideas – cheap coal, pure and cheap milk, good houses and plenty of them, let at fair rents: properly equipped infirmaries maintained out of the rates, with the abominable street and door-to-door cadging abolished once for all, and no shipping of the services – how could they be opposed to all these?
Lady: what was the matter with the men then?
Printer: Well, I heard one woman say: ‘Wot’s good o’ votin’ for t’Labour men – they’ve no money.’ And another said to the canvassers, ‘No, I’m votin’ for Mr Taylor. He came here in his motor-car, and was very nice. So was Mrs. She were wearin’ a lovely set o’ firs – fifty pound if they were a penny. They were both very nice, and I’m sure they’d be good to the poor.’
Lady: Disgusting isn’t it? I remember now. And you told us about some woman who held up her boots to the candidate, and…’
Printer: She said ‘Th’other man says he’ll give me a pair o’ boots: what are tha prepared to do?’
Lady: And what did the canvasser say?
Printer: It was the candidate himself – a man of means who gave his time almost entirely to the poor children. He was secretary to the Cinderella Society, which sent poor children for a spell into the country, which found them clothes and shoes, and gave them occasional treats during the winter – at Christmas for instance. He said; ‘I’m not buying the seat. If you elect me I shall serve you, and you will owe me no more than I shall owe you.’
Lady: Exactly. And Mr Taylor was preferred.
Printer: No, Mr Taylor was in another ward. But it was the boot briber who was returned in this case. In both cases it would be owners of slum property; both sweaters almost to a certainty; and beyond all doubt they would vote against any attempt on the part of the community to extend its control over its own means of life.
Lady: Both Tories?
Printer: One a Tory, the other a Liberal. But nothing to choose between them when it came to real politics. Their idea was just keeping the ring. In that municipality they had actually gone back a generation. In the early eighties they had adopted the Housing Act and had erected a village of houses which belonged to the corporation and were managed by a clerk at the Town Hall. I have met him coming away from collecting the rents on a Monday morning, and he turned up his book showing all the rents regularly paid – weekly, as is the custom with the working-class homes in England. These well built cottages were let to a good class of tenants, and there were always applicants waiting for the first vacancy. The property was kept in excellent repair by the corporation, and in equally good order by the tenants. I have gone over some of these houses, and tenants said they were actually better houses now than they were at first – that improvements had been made.
Lady: Did they pay? There is always a cry that housing schemed don’t pay. Glasgow, for instance –
Printer: Oh the Glasgow housing scheme was saddled with a debt of three million spent on clearing out rotten slums which the actual housing scheme had nothing to do with. The Birmingham schemes all pay. The significant thing about this Huddersfield scheme I speak of is that the corporation kept the rents low and lost some £50 a year over it. But of course they were gradually wiping off the original cost of the scheme, and the time would come when the sinking-fund charge would all be paid off, and the houses would be free both of interest and sinking-fund charges. Anyhow, another sixpence a week on the low rents would have extinguished the loan; but the corporation wanted to be able to say that there was a loan as an excuse for not rapidly developing other housing schemes.
Lady (smiling) Surely not.
Printer: Well, you shall judge. You are to understand, first of all, that Huddersfield is the most Socialist town in Britain. At every Parliamentary election there are three candidates – Liberal, Socialist, Tory. The Liberal always wins; but the Socialist usually polls a small third of the votes, and is in second place; though at last election a strong local Tory climbed for once into the second place. Well, the manufacturers know what Socialism is. They know that the game is up with them if this way of it is allowed to succeed. And so they actually go out of their way to keep Socialism back. The town had Parliamentary powers to wire and fit electric lighting appliances; but they actually divested themselves of this power – abrogated the clause in the Omnibus bill which gave them this power – because it was found that the plumbers objected to corporation servants doing what they claimed was their work. The corporation supplied the current, and carried it into your premises; but then the plumber had to be called in to take up the tale and fit you with wires, switches, and globes.
Lady: And the councillors abolished this power they had. Seems extraordinary.
Printer: You’ll see more of that as the struggle between Socialism and Capitalism develops. From the point of view of the master class – plumbers, farmers, manufacturers – electricity is generated, cattle are fed, and cloth is woven, not that our streets and homes may be lit, the hungry fed, and the naked clothes, but primarily that they may make profits out of their business. Anything that shows how the community can get along very much better without them than with them is a thing to be downed as soon as possible. I could give you incontestable proofs of that from the municipality I speak of, where the class ware is seen in its naked outlines.
Lady: And that is in Yorkshire! I always thought of Yorkshire as being slow-going and canny.
Printer: Well you are wrong so far. Don’t forget that Yorkshire returns a good many Labour members of Parliament. Scotland has only three all told – Barnes, Wilkie, and Adamson. But Yorkshire returns as many from Leeds, Bradford and Attercliffe. And there are others. But that’s the whistle of your Macduff train. ‘Bon voyage!’
HOW MY MOTHER GOT HER SOFT FACE
On the day I was born we bought six hair-bottomed chairs, and in our little house it was an event, the first great victory in a woman’s long campaign; how they had been laboured for, the pound-note and the thirty threepenny-bits they cost, what anxiety there was about the purchase, the show they made in possession of the west room, my father’s unnatural coolness when he brought them in (but his face was white) — I so often heard the tale afterwards, and shared as boy and man in so many similar triumphs, that the coming of the chairs seems to be something I remember, as if I had jumped out of bed on that first day, and run ben to see how they looked. I am sure my mother’s feet were ettling to be ben long before they could be trusted, and that the moment after she was left alone with me she was discovered barefooted in the west room, doctoring a scar (which she had been the first to detect) on one of the chairs, or sitting on them regally, or withdrawing and re-opening the door suddenly to take the six by surprise. And then, I think, a shawl was flung over her (it is strange to me to think it was not I who ran after her with the shawl), and she was escorted sternly back to bed and reminded that she had promised not to budge, to which her reply was probably that she had been gone but an instant, and the implication that therefore she had not been gone at all. Thus was one little bit of her revealed to me at once: I wonder if I took note of it. Neighbours came in to see the boy and the chairs. I wonder if she deceived me when she affected to think that there were others like us, or whether I saw through her from the first, she was so easily seen through. When she seemed to agree with them that it would be impossible to give me a college education, was I so easily taken in, or did I know already what ambitions burned behind that dear face? when they spoke of the chairs as the goal quickly reached, was I such a newcomer that her timid lips must say ‘They are but a beginning’ before I heard the words? And when we were left together, did I laugh at the great things that were in her mind, or had she to whisper them to me first, and then did I put my arm round her and tell her that I would help? Thus it was for such a long time: it is strange to me to feel that it was not so from the beginning.
It is all guess-work for six years, and she whom I see in them is the woman who came suddenly into view when they were at an end. Her timid lips I have said, but they were not timid then, and when I knew her the timid lips had come. The soft face — they say the face was not so soft then. The shawl that was flung over her — we had not begun to hunt her with a shawl, nor to make our bodies a screen between her and the draughts, nor to creep into her room a score of times in the night to stand looking at her as she slept. We did not see her becoming little then, nor sharply turn our heads when she said wonderingly how small her arms had grown. In her happiest moments — and never was a happier woman — her mouth did not of a sudden begin to twitch, and tears to lie on the mute blue eyes in which I have read all I know and would ever care to write. For when you looked into my mother’s eyes you knew, as if He had told you, why God sent her into the world — it was to open the minds of all who looked to beautiful thoughts. And that is the beginning and end of literature. Those eyes that I cannot see until I was six years old have guided me through life, and I pray God they may remain my only earthly judge to the last. They were never more my guide than when I helped to put her to earth, not whimpering because my mother had been taken away after seventy-six glorious years of life, but exulting in her even at the grave.
She had a son who was far away at school. I remember very little about him, only that he was a merry-faced boy who ran like a squirrel up a tree and shook the cherries into my lap. When he was thirteen and I was half his age the terrible news came, and I have been told the face of my mother was awful in its calmness as she set off to get between Death and her boy. We trooped with her down the brae to the wooden station, and I think I was envying her the journey in the mysterious wagons; I know we played around her, proud of our right to be there, but I do not recall it, I only speak from hearsay. Her ticket was taken, she had bidden us good-bye with that fighting face which I cannot see, and then my father came out of the telegraph-office and said huskily, ‘He’s gone!’ Then we turned very quietly and went home again up the little brae. But I speak from hearsay no longer; I knew my mother for ever now.
That is how she got her soft face and her pathetic ways and her large charity, and why other mothers ran to her when they had lost a child. ‘Dinna greet, poor Janet,’ she would say to them; and they would answer, ‘Ah, Margaret, but you’re greeting yoursel.’ Margaret Ogilvy had been her maiden name, and after the Scotch custom she was still Margaret Ogilvy to her old friends. Margaret Ogilvy I loved to name her. Often when I was a boy, ‘Margaret Ogilvy, are you there?’ I would call up the stair.
She was always delicate from that hour, and for many months she was very ill. I have heard that the first thing she expressed a wish to see was the christening robe, and she looked long at it and then turned her face to the wall. That was what made me as a boy think of it always as the robe in which he was christened, but I knew later that we had all been christened in it, from the oldest of the family to the youngest, between whom stood twenty years. Hundreds of other children were christened in it also, such robes being then a rare possession, and the lending of ours among my mother’s glories. It was carried carefully from house to house, as if it were itself a child; my mother made much of it, smoothed it out, petted it, smiled to it before putting it into the arms of those to whom it was being lent; she was in our pew to see it borne magnificently (something inside it now) down the aisle to the pulpit-side, when a stir of expectancy went through the church and we kicked each other’s feet beneath the book-board but were reverent in the face; and however the child might behave, laughing brazenly or skirling to its mother’s shame, and whatever the father as he held it up might do, look doited probably and bow at the wrong time, the christening robe of long experience helped them through. And when it was brought back to her she took it in her arms as softly as if it might be asleep, and unconsciously pressed it to her breast: there was never anything in the house that spoke to her quite so eloquently as that little white robe; it was the one of her children that always remained a baby. And she had not made it herself, which was the most wonderful thing about it to me, for she seemed to have made all other things. All the clothes in the house were of her making, and you don’t know her in the least if you think they were out of the fashion; she turned them and made them new again, she beat them and made them new again, and then she coaxed them into being new again just for the last time, she let them out and took them in and put on new braid, and added a piece up the back, and thus they passed from one member of the family to another until they reached the youngest, and even when we were done with them they reappeared as something else. In the fashion! I must come back to this. Never was a woman with such an eye for it. She had no fashion-plates; she did not need them. The minister’s wife (a cloak), the banker’s daughters (the new sleeve) — they had but to pass our window once, and the scalp, so to speak, was in my mother’s hands. Observe her rushing, scissors in hand, thread in mouth, to the drawers where her daughters’ Sabbath clothes were kept. Or go to church next Sunday, and watch a certain family filing in, the boy lifting his legs high to show off his new boots, but all the others demure, especially the timid, unobservant-looking little woman in the rear of them. If you were the minister’s wife that day or the banker’s daughters you would have got a shock. But she bought the christening robe, and when I used to ask why, she would beam and look conscious, and say she wanted to be extravagant once. And she told me, still smiling, that the more a woman was given to stitching and making things for herself, the greater was her passionate desire now and again to rush to the shops and ‘be foolish.’ The christening robe with its pathetic frills is over half a century old now, and has begun to droop a little, like a daisy whose time is past; but it is as fondly kept together as ever: I saw it in use again only the other day.
My mother lay in bed with the christening robe beside her, and I peeped in many times at the door and then went to the stair and sat on it and sobbed. I know not if it was that first day, or many days afterwards, that there came to me, my sister, the daughter my mother loved the best; yes, more I am sure even than she loved me, whose great glory she has been since I was six years old. This sister, who was then passing out of her ‘teens, came to me with a very anxious face and wringing her hands, and she told me to go ben to my mother and say to her that she still had another boy. I went ben excitedly, but the room was dark, and when I heard the door shut and no sound come from the bed I was afraid, and I stood still. I suppose I was breathing hard, or perhaps I was crying, for after a time I heard a listless voice that had never been listless before say, ‘Is that you?’ I think the tone hurt me, for I made no answer, and then the voice said more anxiously ‘Is that you?’ again. I thought it was the dead boy she was speaking to, and I said in a little lonely voice, ‘No, it’s no him, it’s just me.’ Then I heard a cry, and my mother turned in bed, and though it was dark I knew that she was holding out her arms.
After that I sat a great deal in her bed trying to make her forget him, which was my crafty way of playing physician, and if I saw any one out of doors do something that made the others laugh I immediately hastened to that dark room and did it before her. I suppose I was an odd little figure; I have been told that my anxiety to brighten her gave my face a strained look and put a tremor into the joke (I would stand on my head in the bed, my feet against the wall, and then cry excitedly, ‘Are you laughing, mother?’) — and perhaps what made her laugh was something I was unconscious of, but she did laugh suddenly now and then, whereupon I screamed exultantly to that dear sister, who was ever in waiting, to come and see the sight, but by the time she came the soft face was wet again. Thus I was deprived of some of my glory, and I remember once only making her laugh before witnesses. I kept a record of her laughs on a piece of paper, a stroke for each, and it was my custom to show this proudly to the doctor every morning. There were five strokes the first time I slipped it into his hand, and when their meaning was explained to him he laughed so boisterously, that I cried, ‘I wish that was one of hers!’ Then he was sympathetic, and asked me if my mother had seen the paper yet, and when I shook my head he said that if I showed it to her now and told her that these were her five laughs he thought I might win another. I had less confidence, but he was the mysterious man whom you ran for in the dead of night (you flung sand at his window to waken him, and if it was only toothache he extracted the tooth through the open window, but when it was something sterner he was with you in the dark square at once, like a man who slept in his topcoat), so I did as he bade me, and not only did she laugh then but again when I put the laugh down, so that though it was really one laugh with a tear in the middle I counted it as two.
It was doubtless that same sister who told me not to sulk when my mother lay thinking of him, but to try instead to get her to talk about him. I did not see how this could make her the merry mother she used to be, but I was told that if I could not do it nobody could, and this made me eager to begin. At first, they say, I was often jealous, stopping her fond memories with the cry, ‘Do you mind nothing about me?’ but that did not last; its place was taken by an intense desire (again, I think, my sister must have breathed it into life) to become so like him that even my mother should not see the difference, and many and artful were the questions I put to that end. Then I practised in secret, but after a whole week had passed I was still rather like myself. He had such a cheery way of whistling, she had told me, it had always brightened her at her work to hear him whistling, and when he whistled he stood with his legs apart, and his hands in the pockets of his knickerbockers. I decided to trust to this, so one day after I had learned his whistle (every boy of enterprise invents a whistle of his own) from boys who had been his comrades, I secretly put on a suit of his clothes, dark grey they were, with little spots, and they fitted me many years afterwards, and thus disguised I slipped, unknown to the others, into my mother’s room. Quaking, I doubt not, yet so pleased, I stood still until she saw me, and then — how it must have hurt her! ‘Listen!’ I cried in a glow of triumph, and I stretched my legs wide apart and plunged my hands into the pockets of my knickerbockers, and began to whistle.
She lived twenty-nine years after his death, such active years until toward the end, that you never knew where she was unless you took hold of her, and though she was frail henceforth and ever growing frailer, her housekeeping again became famous, so that brides called as a matter of course to watch her ca’ming and sanding and stitching: there are old people still, one or two, to tell with wonder in their eyes how she could bake twenty-four bannocks in the hour, and not a chip in one of them. And how many she gave away, how much she gave away of all she had, and what pretty ways she had of giving it! Her face beamed and rippled with mirth as before, and her laugh that I had tried so hard to force came running home again. I have heard no such laugh as hers save from merry children; the laughter of most of us ages, and wears out with the body, but hers remained gleeful to the last, as if it were born afresh every morning. There was always something of the child in her, and her laugh was its voice, as eloquent of the past to me as was the christening robe to her. But I had not made her forget the bit of her that was dead; in those nine-and-twenty years he was not removed one day farther from her. Many a time she fell asleep speaking to him, and even while she slept her lips moved and she smiled as if he had come back to her, and when she woke he might vanish so suddenly that she started up bewildered and looked about her, and then said slowly, ‘My David’s dead!’ or perhaps he remained long enough to whisper why he must leave her now, and then she lay silent with filmy eyes. When I became a man and he was still a boy of thirteen, I wrote a little paper called ‘Dead this Twenty Years,’ which was about a similar tragedy in another woman’s life, and it is the only thing I have written that she never spoke about, not even to that daughter she loved the best. No one ever spoke of it to her, or asked her if she had read it: one does not ask a mother if she knows that there is a little coffin in the house. She read many times the book in which it is printed, but when she came to that chapter she would put her hands to her heart or even over her ears.
THE STICKIT MINISTER
From The Stickit Minister and other common men (1893) S.R. Crockett
The crows were wheeling behind the plough in scattering clusters, and plumping singly upon the soft, thick grubs which the ploughshare was turning out upon an unkindly world. It was a bask blowy day in the end of March, and there was a hint of storm in the air—a hint emphasised for those skilled in weather lore by the presence of half a dozen sea-gulls, white vagrants among the black coats, blown by the south wind up from the Solway—a snell, Scotch, but not unfriendly day altogether. Robert Fraser bent to the plough handles, and cast a keen and wary eye towards his guide posts on the ridge. His face was colourless, even when a dash of rain came swirling across from the crest of Ben Gairn, whose steep bulk heaved itself a blue haystack above the level horizon of the moorland. He was dressed like any other ploughman of the south uplands— rough homespun much the worse for wear, and leggings the colour of the red soil which he was reversing with the share of his plough. Yet there was that about Robert Fraser which marked him no common man. When he paused at the top of the ascent, and stood with his back against the horns of the plough, the countryman's legacy from Adam of the Mattock, he pushed back his weatherbeaten straw hat with a characteristic gesture, and showed a white forehead with blue veins channelling it—a damp, heavy lock of black hair clinging to it as in Severn's picture of John Keats on his deathbed. Robert Fraser saw a couple of black specks which moved smoothly and evenly along the top of the distant dyke of the highway. He stood still for a moment or two watching them. As they came nearer, they resolved themselves into a smart young man sitting in a well-equipped gig drawn by a showily-actioned horse, and driven by a man in livery. As they passed rapidly along the road the hand of the young man appeared in a careless wave of recognition over the stone dyke, and Robert Fraser lifted his slack reins in staid acknowledgment. It was more than a year since the brothers had looked each other so nearly in the eyes. They were Dr. Henry Fraser, the rising physician of Cairn Edward, and his elder brother Robert, once Student of Divinity at Edinburgh College, whom three parishes knew as 'The Stickit Minister.'
When Robert Fraser stabled his horses that night and went in to his supper, he was not surprised to find his friend, Saunders M'Quhirr of Drumquhat, sitting by the peat fire in the room. Almost the only thing which distinguished the Stickit Minister from the other small farmers of the parish of Dullarg was the fact that he always sat in the evening by himself ben the hoose, and did not use the kitchen in common with his housekeeper and herd boy, save only at meal-times. Robert had taken to Saunders ever since—the back of his ambition broken—he had settled down to the farm, and he welcomed him with shy cordiality.
'You'll take a cup of tea, Saunders?' he asked.
'Thank ye, Robert, I wadna be waur o't,' returned his friend.
I saw your brither the day,' said Saunders M'Quhirr, after the tea-cups had been cleared away, and the silent housekeeper had replaced the books upon the table. Saunders picked a couple of them up, and, having adjusted his glasses, he read the titles— Milton’s Works, and a volume of a translation of Dorner's Person of Christ.
'I saw yer brither the day; he maun be gettin' a big practice!'
'Ay!’ said Robert Fraser, very thoughtfully.
Saunders M'Quhirr glanced up quickly. It was, of course, natural that the unsuccessful elder brother should envy the prosperous younger, but he had thought that Robert Fraser was living on a different plane. It was one of the few things that the friends had never spoken of, though every one knew why Dr. Fraser did not visit his brother's little farm. 'He's gettin' in wi' the big fowk noo, an' thinks maybe that his brither wad do him nae credit.' That was the way the clash of the countryside explained the matter.
‘I never told you how I came to leave the college, Saunders,' said the younger man, resting his brow on a hand that even the horn of the plough could not make other than diaphanous.
'No,' said Saunders quietly, with a tender gleam coming into the humorsome kindly eyes that lurked under their bushy tussocks of grey eyebrow. Saunders's humour lay near the Fountain of Tears.
'No,' continued Robert Fraser, 'I have not spoken of it to so many; but you've been a good frien' to me, Saunders, and I think you should hear it. I have not tried to set myself right with folks in the general, but I would like to let you see clearly before I go my ways to Him who seeeth from the beginning.'
'Hear till him,' said Saunders, 'man, yer hoast is no' near as sair as it was i' the back-end. Ye'll be here lang efter me; but lang or short, weel do ye ken, Robert Fraser, that ye need not to pit yersel' richt wi' me. Hae I no' kenned ye sins ye war the size o' twa scrubbers?'
'I thank you, Saunders,' said Robert, 'but I am well aware that I'm to die this year. No, no, not a word. It is the Lord's will! It's mair than seven year now since I first kenned that my days were to be few. It was the year my faither died, and left Harry and me by our lane.
'He left no siller to speak of, just plenty to lay him decently in the kirkyard among his forebears. I had been a year at the Divinity Hall then, and was going up to put in my discourses for the next session. I had been troubled with my breast for some time, and so called one day at the infirmary to get a word with Sir James. He was very busy when I went in, and never noticed me till the hoast took me. Then on a sudden he looked up from his papers, came quickly over to me, put his own white handkerchief to my mouth, and quietly said, ‘Come into my room, laddie!’
Ay, he was a good man and a faithful, Sir James, if ever there was one. He told me that with care I might live five or six years, but it would need great care. Then a strange prickly coldness came over me, and I seemed to walk light-headed in an atmosphere suddenly rarefied. I think I know now how the mouse feels under the air-pump.'
'What's that?’ queried Saunders.
'A cruel ploy not worth speaking of,' continued the Stickit Minister. 'Well, I found something in my throat when I tried to thank him. But I came my ways home to the Dullarg, and night and day I considered what was to be done, with so much to do and so little time to do it. It was clear that both Harry and me could not gang through the college on the little my faither had left. So late one night I saw my way clear to what I should do. Harry must go, I must stay. I must come home to the farm, and be my own ‘man’, then I could send Harry to the college to be a doctor, for he had no call to the ministry as once I thought I had. More than that, it was laid on me to tell Jessie Loudon that Robert Fraser was no better than a machine set to go five year.
'Now all these things I did, Saunders, but there's no use telling you what they cost in the doing. They were right to do, and they were done. I do not repent any of them. I would do them all over again were they to do, but it's been bitterer than I thought.'
The Stickit Minister took his head off his hand and leaned wearily back in his chair.
'The story went over the country that I had failed in my examinations, and I never said that I had not. But there were some that knew better who might have contradicted the report if they had liked. I settled down to the farm, and I put Harry through the college, sending all but a bare living to him in Edinburgh. I worked the work of the farm, rain and shine, ever since, and have been for these six years the ‘stickit minister’ that all the world kens the day. Whiles Harry did not think that he got enough. He was always writing for more, and not so very pleased when he did not get it. He was aye different to me, ye ken, Saunders, and he canna be judged by the same standard as you and me.'
'I ken,' said Saunders M'Quhirr, a spark of light lying in the quiet of his eyes.
'Well,' continued Robert Fraser, lightened by Saunders's apparent agreement, 'the time came when he was clear from the college, and wanted a practice. He had been ill-advised that he had not got his share of the farm, and he wanted it selled to share and share alike. Now I kenned, and you ken, Saunders, that it's no' worth much in one share let alone two. So I got the place quietly bonded, and bought him old Dr. Aitkin's practice in Cairn Edward with the money...'
'I have tried to do my best for the lad, for it was laid on me to be my brother's keeper. He doesna come here much,' continued Robert, 'but I think he's not so ill against me as he was. Saunders, he waved his hand to me when he was gaun by the day!’
'That was kind of him,' said Saunders M'Quhirr.
'Ay, was it no',' said the Stickit Minister, eagerly, with a soft look in his eyes as he glanced up at his brother's portrait in cap and gown, which hung over the china dogs on the mantelpiece.
'I got my notice this morning that the bond is to be called up in November,' said Robert. 'So I'll be obliged to flit.'
Saunders M'Quhirr started to his feet in a moment. 'Never,' he said, with the spark of fire alive now in his eyes, 'never as lang as there's a beast on Drumquhat, or a poun' in Cairn Edward Bank '—bringing down his clenched fist upon the Milton on the table.
'No, Saunders, no,' said the Stickit Minister, very gently; 'I thank you kindly, but I'll be flitted before that… '
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Aal Geordie walked intae the chaamer at Hogland. The mornin sun wiz warm as it streamed throwe the windae wi it’s lair o cobwebs and styoo and cast a wee bittie o heat ontae his arthritic shooders. He stood an lookit aroon the aal chaamer leanin heavily ontae his walkin stavve. His tired een took in the scene afore him, dust lay thick on the fleer, an odds an eynes o lang redundant bits an bobs lay scattered aboot. It lookit for aa the world that somebody hid jist opened the door an heaved them in as if feart tae enter? Fooivver, even that hid been deen mony a year afore because even they were coated wi dust an dirt an lookit jist as forlorn lyin there as athing else in the room.
The furniture wiz still in place, that is if ye could caa it furniture? Twa bunks een on tap o tither, a chest o drawers and a puckle kists. The chest o drawers hid been time worn fin Queen Victoria hid been a young quine. Nae doot it hid been made by a local vricht. Geordie smiled as he imagined tryin tae sell it tae een o yon funcy antique dealers ye see on tv.
‘Yes sir! This is pure Buchan workmanship! See these saw marks? That’s authentic Jeemy jiner!
Did you know sir that he also made cornkists an meal girnals?’
A strange hissin sound fulled the room, and if there’d been onybody else there they wid’ve seen Geordie laachin tae himsel. Shakin his heed as if tae clear awa the image his attention turned tae the bunks. They were made o sarkin boords the same as used on reefs and lookit for aa the world like giant fish boxes. The mattresses were still in them, cloot pyokes fulled o chaff fae the thrashin mull. He gave een a poke wi his stavve an it wint clean throwe the rotten cloot an intae the muchty chaff. Dust particles rose an flashed as they passed throwe the stream o sunlicht fae the windae. Geordie waved his haan tae pit awa the styoo an is so deein steered up even mair. The waas were lined wi the same sarkin boords that made the bunk an were butted thegither. At the jines dust hid filtered throwe them and some o it clung tae cobwebs that hung aawye. It wiz this Geordie hid disturbed by wavin his haan aboot. Movin awa tae the tither side o the room tae escape the dust he stumbled ower some aal clyse an kitchen utensils an near wint his length ontae the fleer. A bittie fleggit he lookit roon for something tae sit on. He saw in the corner fae the eyne o the bunks a big widden kist. Bit by bit he dragged it ower tae the sunlicht.
The kist wiz o the type used by fairmservants for huddin their goods & chattels. The kist wiz empty but Geordie kent fine fit wid’ve been intae it so many years ago. Great fully he sat doon ontae the kist. He fichered aboot in his jaicket pooch an teen oot his pipe an lit it while mentally tickin aff the list o contents o the kist. He muttered, ‘Sunday suit, gweed sheen, collars, studs, cuffs aboot twa o each, twa’r three pairs o leather thyangs for the beets, a tin o dubbin, maybe some siller an oh aye michtbe a bottle o fusky for medicinal purposes? The hissin sound fulled the room eence mair ‘Medicinal purposes’ - - - - !
Watchin the reek fae his pipe curlin up towards the reef timmers Geordie felt a great sadness come ower him. He kent that he’d been tryin nae tae think ower deeply but the memories o this very same room seemed tae loup oot at him fae ivvery dusty neuk an murmur tae his breest. He’d last been in this room saxty three years afore an sittin there he fairly felt that years. Time hid been relatively kind tae him though, even noo ye could see that he’d been a tall strong man weel used tae hard back brakkin vrocht. The haan that held the pipe wiz big an leathery wi callouses near makkin the haan hardly able tae close richt. Arthritis hid in the past puckle years laid its coorse haan ontae his braid shooders an as Geordie likit tae say aboot it- ‘It fair makks a budy claa fit’s nae yokie!’ Although at aichtythree he’d nae complaints an wid be quick tae tell ye so.
Geordie let his mind wanner back throwe time, warily at first as if feart tae awaken the hame seek feelins in his breest. A feelin that hid plagued him throughoot his life. It wid catch him unawares at the strangest times. Smells and sounds would trigger it, new cut girss, the barkin o a dog in the distance, the clatter o denner dishes bein stackit, ony o that things wid be eneuch tae drag his mind back tae this room. If he alloed the feelins tae persist tears wid smart his een but wi the passin o time he’d learned tae forcibly control his emotions; until now. This time the hissin sound wiz different an the tears flowed. As he sat there solomentin the door swung open and a wee lassie o aboot ten entered and started tae say ‘Grandfath- - - ‘ but stoppit.
‘What’s the matter grandfather, why are you crying?’ She wiz gye concerned an wint tae him.
‘Oh nithing’ Geordie replied, ‘Jist a bittie o styoo got intae ma ee.’
‘Grandfather don’t talk that funny way’ I don’t understand what you are saying!’ She giggled and gave her grandfather a big hug. ‘Mummy says it will soon be time to go and that the taxi is on its way to take you back.’
‘Aye ma wee lamb gyang an tell yer mither I’ll be alang in a fyowe minties’, said Geordie kindly. He saw the bonny wee facie brak intae a grin as she scolded him laughingly for speaking ‘In that funny way!’ and aifter giein her granda anither great big hug she left tae tell her mither.
Geordie wiz left eence mair tae his thochts but instead o the past they were in the here an noo. The taxi wiz comin tae tak him back- ‘Aye tae tak ma back tae the home’ he muttered. He shuddered at the thocht. They were gweed enough tae him there but the fowk jist didna understand him fin he spoke o his youth. This room kent though, it kent his ivvery feelin ivvery memory for this wiz the room that aifter a lang life always creepit intae his thochts. The fowk that hid passed throwe its muchty confines, their hopes, their loves, their fears aa were laid bare tae this room!’
It wiz wantin a fyowe days afore the aal ‘November Term’ as Geordie alloed his mind tae travel back saxty three years. His memory got sharper an sichts an sounds became clearer, the blanket o time slid back an in his mind’s ee he’d returned.
The room wiz cleaner noo. Far wiz the cobwebs? The chaff bed lookit nearly clean. He made tae lift his stavve tae gie it a powk but the door swung open an as he turned tae look for his grandochter’s smilin facie tellin him the taxi’s there a face straacht fae the past met him.
He started an shouted the name o the man faa hid came in makkin sic a din. ‘Gweed sakes is at you Bill Reid? Ye hivna changed a bit min!’ Geordie put oot his haan tae greet the ither man but found himsel completely ignored as the figure wint tae the windae an hunkered doon at a smaa kist Geordie hidna seen. Aifter some raikin aboot he came oot wi a horse brush an closed the kist. He watched Bill staan up an look throwe the windae an shout ower his shooder- ‘It’s still poorin doon oot there Geordie heavier than ivver! The grieve winna be best pleased aboot at!’
As he left the room he continued tae spik in the same loud voice- - ‘We’d better be seein tae the horse afore he takks a blae fit aathegither!’
Geordie wiz mesmerised an muttered ‘That couldna be Bill? He’s but a young loon an onywye he wiz killed in the war!’ Rubbin his een an lookin aboot the room he began tae feel the first steerins o panic.
He thocht tae himsel that this how a budy first becomes dottled in the heed. A lang forgotten smell began tae filter intae the room an for a minty he couldna place it. Fin he did though the hairs on the back o his neck fair birssed up an he exclaimed oot o him- - ‘Horses!’ An in a whisper ‘We’re ower the stable here.’ The musty sweet smell o horses breath brocht a flood o memories that threatened tae overpower him aathegither. He tried tae rise fae the kist but he couldna an he began tae curse the arthritis in gweed pure Doric. As he struggled tae arise anither voice fae the past spoke softly tae him.
‘Tak it easy Geordie min ye’ll nae wun up that wye.’
Fin he lookit up his hert near missed a beat. There standin in aa her radiant beauty stood Kirsteen Blair. She wiz lookin at him wi a saft wistful look in her een.
‘Oh Geordie yer an aal mannie noo!’
She teen teen his haan in hers an he could see the tears gither intae her een. ‘Yer aal an frail wi the mark o pain etched in yer face. An fit’s happened tae yer bonny curly hair?’
Geordie at last managed tae spik an replied in a gye shakky falterin voice - ‘Oh yer as bonny as I mind Kirsteen.’ And in a resigned tone he philosophically continued wi- - ‘I’m fair amazed that as ye growe dottled in mind ye remember details lang forgotten!’
Kirsteen smiled an said ‘But yer nae dottled ava Geordie I’m really stannin here in front o ye. Can ye nae feel ma haans in yours?’
Geordie shook his heed ‘It canna be! Yer still young, an I’m aichtythree we were aboot the same age ye ken!’ She smiled an wipit a tear fae his ee as he repeated ‘It canna be! It canna be!’
He lookit up intae her facie an stared at her for a lang time seein the real beauty o Kirsteen as if for the first time. His aal tired weary een takin in ivvery part o her face as if terrifeart he’d lose the picture o his sweetest memory.
Doubtfully he stood and as if expectin tae touch empty space he reached oot an teen her intae his airms an held her close as sabbs wracked his work worn body. ‘Why did ye nae let ma ken Kirsteen?’ Mair sobs tore throwe him as he continued - ‘If ye’d tellt ma I wid’ve come for ye. Oh we wid’ve been happy thegither. I loed ye dearly quine!’
Kirsteen stood awa fae him an turned as if lookin oot the windae. Fin she spoke it wiz saft an hesitant- - ‘I – I didna ken fit tae dee-- I thocht o writin tae ye in the trenches an tellin ye aboot the bairn.’ She turned at her ain words an said ‘ I wiz gan tae write an tell ye but word came back that ye’d been killed alang wi Bill Reid!’ Aifter that aathing wint wrang for me an the bairn. Geordie waakit ower tae her an teen her tae his bosie as she tellt the rest o her story.
‘The fairmer an his wife were affa gweed tae me an the bairn but they hid tae sell the fairm an move awa. The new fowk that bocht it promised tae keep me on as kitchie but nae lang aifter takkin ower I wiz given my marchin orders. They widna hae a kitchie that wiz a slattern workin aboot the place. Ye see they were affa religious kindo fowk.’ She sabbit intae his bosie- - ‘I tried for ither vrocht but naebody wid tak ma on because o the bairn.’
‘Things got fae bad tae waar an eventually the Cruelty teen oor we laddie awa fae ma. Aifter that my hert wiz completely broken, as lang as I hid him I ayee hid a bit o you, he wiz the spittin image o his faither!’
Through teerin sobs she tellt him the rest o the story. ‘I wandered aboot an finally reached Aiberdeen mair deed than alive. I couldna get a job or even a reef ower ma heed and as illness teen it’s grip I must’ve snappit an threw masel aff the Union Street brig! She stared intae his een ‘Because o my deein that I’ve spent aa the years wanderin aboot this place. But I nivver found oot . Why this place? Why is it my spirit wanders here!’ Her voice wiz raised and as if jist realising it she added tenderly ‘You’re the first person faa’s been intae this room in decades for abody says this place is haunted.’ She gave the shadda o a smile at this an dichted her een wi the corner o her aapron.
Geordie gently teen up the story- ‘I wiz wounded by the same shell that killed peer Bill. I didna mind muckle aifter bein hut, jist bitties here an there. I mind the French nurses dressin my wounds an bein lifted intae an ambulance then ontae a boat. Next thing I wiz in a military hospital in England. It wiz there I began tae fit things thegither an as I got better I fun oot I wiz in a place caad Colchester. They were affa gweed tae us.
I wrote a lot o letter tae ye but they ayee came back wi ‘no one of this name lives here’. Aifter aboot fower months the doctor said I wiz fit enough tae be discharged. The army gave me three weeks hame leave an a travel warrant. I arrived in Aiberdeen aboot fower days later, the trains were jist affa an we were delayed ivvery fyowe miles because o aa the troop trains headin sooth. Fan I got tae Aiberdeen the Reed Cross weemin gave me a meal and an address o a hall that catered for wounded sojers hame on leave. I’d a wander up fae the station haein a look intae the shop windaes an sic like fin an affa commotion set up at the heed o the hill. Being nosy kind I wint tae see fit wiz up. Fin I got there aabody wiz lookin ower the brig. Geordie faltered as if ower painful tae relive- ‘It wiz you Kirsteen! O michty me it wiz you lyin there aa broken on the rails!’ Sobs wracked him as he lookit intae her bonny facie- - ‘I—I’d missed ye by five meenits, five bliddy meenits! He sobbed again an Kirsteen held him close wi the tears fleein fae her ana. Geordie tried tae dicht awa her tears as he said ‘Noo saxty three years hiv wun past an I’ve loved ye for ivvery five meenits in aa that years.’ They were in eenanithers airms again lost tae the past. Aifter a while he cairried on wi his story. ‘I tellt the policeman faa ye were an fae far aboot ye came. Aifter a fyowe days they’d traced doon fit hid happened tae ye an it wiz then I found oot aboot the bairn. I managed tae get ye beeriet in the aal kirkyard yonder wi a Christian beerial. The meenister wiz affa sympathetic fin I tellt him fit hid happened.’
Kirsteen gasped oot ‘So that’s why I’m here?’ said she shakin her heed in understandin. And wi a glance o admiration at Geordie she mummled ‘A Christian beerial!’ He nodded an cairried on. ‘I wint tae see the bairn at the home an wiz promised by the Authorities that if I could provide a hame for him I’d get tae tak him fae their care. I wiz discharged fae the army as unfit for active service, mind you I still dinna ken fit wye because at that time if ye could cairry a gun ye were fit for the slaachter. I didna think I wiz that unfit but I think that maybe my commandin officer hid something tae dee wi it for he gave me a job on his faither’s estate at the Cabrach. I got a hoose wi the job an found an aal woman tae keep hoose for me so I eventually got oor bairn back fae care. Aifter the war my commandin officer gave me the gran job o estate keeper. Oor loon grew up fine an strong an workit alang wi ma till he emigrated tae Australia. He smiled at Kirsteen. ‘He’s deen affa weel for himsel oot there an owns a big sheep fairm. He’s heen twa o a faimily baith lassies an ilka year een o them comes ower tae see their granda.’ Kirsteen speired at him if he’d ivver thought o gyan oot there wi there loon? But na na Geordie wid nivver leave. He ayee wanted tae be close tae her. He said’ I vrocht awa at the Cabrach until I retired a puckle years ago.’
He teen a hud o Kirsteen’s an speired at her if she’d seen the wee lassie that came in?’
Aye she hid seen her and Geordie tearfully tellt her that wiz their great grand dochter hame fae Australia tae see him.
Kirsteen’s een brimmed wi tears as she thocht o the bonny wee lassie, she slowly an somehow knowingly speired her name. ‘Kirsteen’ said Geordie ‘ An she’s as like you as twa peys in a pod.’
The door burst open - ‘Grandfath- - - !’ Geordie swung roon tae see her lookin at the lassie in her granda’s airms.
‘Wh- - - who’s that grandfather? Who’s the pretty lady an why is she crying?’ She looked at him wi puzzlement on her facie. Geordie tried tae explain fin Kirsteen butted in - ‘I’m the lady that cleans here and I must have got dust in my eyes. Your grandfather was trying to take it out for me.’ Would you take a look at it for me because I don’t think your granda can see too well?’ Kirsteen picked the bairn up and wint tae the windae sayin ‘There’ll be more light here. Kirsteen managed tae get tae cuddle her great gran bairn as she lookit intae her een for the dust.’ She couldna see onything sayin ‘Granda must’ve got it all out.’ Kirsteen sighed as she let the bairn go. A lifetime she’d been alloed tae touch for the briefest o moments. She said tae Geordie, ‘The taxi’s coming now grandfather, we’ll take you home.’ ‘Aaricht tell yer mither I’m jist comin.’ he said kindly. Pittin her hands ontae her hips in mock anger she said ‘Grandfather! Don’t talk funny! I jist dinna understan ae wird yer spikkin!’ And wi a giggle she ran oot o the room.
‘She’s learnin the Doric weel fae ye.’ said Kirsteen smilin.
‘Aye’ says Geordie ‘But I’ll bet her great grunny could tell it better!’
Eence mair they were in eenanither’s airms. Michty but Geordie wiz sweered tae let go o her but Kirsteen tellt him they’d be thegither again soon.
The taxi came for Geordie an teen him back tae the home and aifter a special hug fae his gran dochter he said his farewells, but nae afore Kirsteen said she’d seen her grandfather holding a young cleaning lady in his arms. Aabody laached at this because they kent the fairm wiz derelict an hid only teen an aal man tae see far some o his youth hid been spent afore the bulldozers moved in.
Kirsteen knew she’d nivver see her great granda again. She didna ken how she knew but fin she lookit at Geordie she wiz happy for him and ran back for one last cuddle and whispered ‘I love you granda ‘tell the pretty lady to take good care of you!’
You can read more of Pat's work in Sanners Gow's Tales and Folklore of the Buchan. Just go over to the Unco store www.unco.scot and find him in the contemporary Scots section
First published in December 1940
The Auld Licht
For the benefit of English readers, the Auld Lichts were the Original Seceders who left the Church of Scotland because of differences of opinion alike on points of doctrine and church government. They were evangelicals who objected to ‘cauld morality’ sermons and to the law which allowed a patron to impose a minister on the parish and people without their consent and free choice. The Disruption of a hundred years later was an assertion of the same right of a congregation to choose its own pastor. This right was legally recognised by the abolition of patronage in 1874.
The most unexpected element in Lichtie was in his drollery. Considering the preposterous beliefs he held in what is called religion, it was perplexing how readily his mind saw the mildly ludicrous in everyday events and sayings. He brought the gravity of a chancellor to the consideration of every topic, and made you wonder if you were not a trifler in a world of momentous solemnities. And yet he had a quirk of natural whimsicality that left you uncertain. If you asked him how he did, he would answer, ‘Oh, jist battlin’ awa.’ This reply he gave you always in the same undeviating tone. But you could never be quite sure what he meant by it – whether he intended you to infer that life was a discouraging battle or that he was enjoying the tussle. His tone gave no clue.
Lichtie’s genial neighbour, Geordie Crow, had one day ‘a narrow shave.’ Geordie was a blacksmith, and his smiddy was roofed with flagstones. One of these slid off as he was passing and just missed his head by an inch or two. He told the story to Lichtie, adding ‘Wasna that Providential escape, Robbie?’
After musing a little, Robbie said gravely, ‘Weel, I dinna see ony Providence in it, Geordie.’
The blacksmith drew back a step and looked at the immobile figure. ‘Only twa inches nearer, and the flagstane would hae killed me, man,’ he cried.
Lichtie was unconvinced, and stated the fact in his own way.
‘If Providence threw the stane at ye, Geordie, He would either hae struck ye or made a wider deliverance – twa feet or mair.’
Geordie was puzzled by this, but tried again. ‘It’s this way, Robbie,’ he argued. ‘It cam’ sae near me that if it hadna been for the interference o’ Providence it micht hae clove my skull, man.’
The stoical Robbie could not follow this caprice.
‘I canna tak’ it in, Geordie. Providence couldna baith knock the flagstane aff the roof to kill ye, and at the same time keep it awa frae its mark.’
‘An’ why no?’ queried the amazed blacksmith.
This insistence slightly nettled Lichtie.
‘A’ I can say,’ he remarked stubbornly, ‘is this – that if Providence aimed at ye, and then repented, it would be because ye wasna fit to dee, Geordie!’ And he walked off solemnly.
Did anything so simple occur to them as the loosening of the slab by ordinary natural wear and tear and then the operation of the law of gravity, the passing of the blacksmith at the moment being pure fortuity? It would be hard to say. The discussion at any rate was purely theological, and irreverently ignored the only real laws of the occurrence.
The blacksmith, who thought he had proved a clear miracle, gazed after his inscrutable acquaintance in wonderment. Was Lichtie taking him off, or was he really being rebuked? He was bewildered, as Robbie’s hearers often were.
Lichtie was a mason to trade. While doing some repairs at Lengar Castle, the proprietor condescendingly asked the old man if he would like to see through the building; and without waiting for a reply he opened the front door and signalled Robbie to enter. The marvels of the interior did not escape the sturdy mason. He admired in his own fashion the scope of walls, staircases and rooms; but to any remark of the complacent castellan his sole answer was ‘Ay.’ ‘A fine view from this window’ was met solemnly with ‘Ay.’ The pictures and statuary were similarly honoured. When the two arrived at the doorstep again the laird sought to draw out his guest.
‘Well, a fine mansion, isn’t it?’ he said.
‘Ay,’ replied Lichtie, ‘an’ yet, d’ye ken, it wudna mak a SKYLICHT in oor Father’s hoose!’
Robbie left Willie Dow’s son Peter in the same plight. Peter had been in London for a year or more, and returned to the village in fashionable clothes. He called on Robbie as an old neighbour. Robbie gravely scrutinised him from head to heel.
‘Good fit, ain’t it?’ remarked the youth, turning himself round maliciously to allow Robbie a full view.
‘Fits ye like a coat o’ paint, sir,’ was Lichtie’s verdict.
Had it been another person’s. Peter would have considered it a neat saying and would have felt flattered. But Robbie was no sartorial connoisseur, and his remark must have meant something else. Did he infer that, like a rotten paling painted, Peter had only a skin-deep respectability? Who could tell? Peter came away hurt. Then he changed his mind. In the end he remained perplexed.
Fourteen miles Lichtie tramped every Sabbath. (We must not say Sunday – that was in Lichtie’s view only the profane, pagan, official name for the Lord’s own day.) His Auld Licht church was seven miles away. He was never absent unless very ill, and indeed often made the double journey in great enfeeblement. His house was one of the old type, with a hinged shutter to the window. This shutter was never opened on the Sabbath, which was thus no sun-day with his abode. His chief reason, however, was that he might not see the kind of weather until he was outside. Thus a sunny day did not tempt him to wander in his garden and neglect attending ‘the means of grace’; and if snow lay deep on the ground he did not know of it until he had stepped outside: and then, having committed himself so far, there was little to be gained by going back, even had he been tempted to do so. By this manoeuvre he held ‘the flesh’ by a firm rein.
He was taciturn to the end, and his droll turn remained also. When the neighbour who attended him in his last hours asked him if he had any ‘message’ for her, he merely answered, very feebly but earnestly, ‘Dinna forget God; an’ keep yersel’ clean.’
To her last breath she did not know whether to be pleased or offended. And he left the minister in a similar haze. To him he said, ‘Never preach the gospel in a dirty collar, sir.’
To warn people against venial ‘sins’ they are not likely to commit is very Calvinistic and unpleasant; yet we were all of one mind that Robbie was a saint and a mystic; but whether he was a satirist or not remained an open question. The children seemed to understand him best. His solemnity was an amusement to them, and they were never annoyed by the equivocal sayings he uttered to their seniors. When they christened him ‘Lichtie’ it was done more in a spirit of affectionate familiarity than to proclaim his connection with the Auld Licht Kirk.
OOPS, Only after publishing this did we realise we published it previously in December 2016. Ah well, the years are catching up eh? Ed
It was bitterly cold in the neighbourhood of the Pripet Marshes. A nipping wind slanted rain and sleet across the openings in the woods, and the ragged man who pushed out from under the trees laid down his gun, and flapped his arms to keep himself warm. He was a dejected figure, limping and dishevelled, wan and dirty. His uniform, rent and besmirched, fluttered its torn ends about his shrunken body and let in the cold air upon his feverish skin. For a year now he had been in the forest, fighting an enemy he had rarely seen. Now this way, and now that, his regiment had crept through the trees, and man after man had fallen, struck by bullets which seemed to come from the ground itself. It was wearisome work, and, footsore, he had fallen out during the past two days. Where he was he did not know, for he had lost all sight of his comrades, and had seen nothing of the enemy. The thought uppermost was the desire to warm himself by a fire; so long as he came to a fire he little cared where his wanderings took him. On and on he trudged for miles, and he now despaired of getting anywhere. He looked, through the sleet and the rain, across the opening into which he had come, and half made up his mind to go back into the trees and there lie down and die, when he saw a soldier, ragged as himself, approaching towards him. The other man was one of the enemy, and yet the first man did not take up his gun, but calmly waited the other’s coming. He held up his hand, and, when the enemy had come within speaking distance, shouted, ‘All right, I’m your prisoner.’
He sat down on the wet grass, and abandoned all responsibility. He had surrendered, and, so far as he was concerned, the war was over. No more would he have to tramp, tramp, on his burning blistered feet through the bitter cold; he would be taken away to warmth and food. Happily and childishly he hummed softly a little air to himself.
The enemy came and stood over him.
‘Confound you,’ he said, ‘Why the devil were you so quick? I was about to surrender to you.’
The first man looked up with a smile.
‘Sorry, old man,’ he said pleasantly, ‘but I stole a march on you. I surrendered first.’
‘That may be, but consider myself your prisoner.’
‘You are very good, but I have no intention of availing myself of your surrender.’
The enemy sighed. ‘But I’ve had enough of this. I’m starving and I want some food. I’ve got a wound in my leg, and I can hardly walk. Please take me prisoner,’ he begged.
‘I’ve a fever and sore feet. I’m your prisoner.’
The enemy sat down by the other’s side.
‘This isn’t fair,’ he grumbled.
‘Oh yes it is,’ said the other. ‘I had put down my rifle and had not time to pick it up before you were upon me. It’s quite fair.’
A wistful look came into the enemy’s face.
‘Curse your luck!’ he said. ‘If you’re my prisoner you’ll be sent back to safety, and there you’ll live like a fighting cock. You’ll have food and fire, and games to amuse you. And you’ll be able to hold your head up without any fear that a shot’ll take it off. And they’ll tie up your feet in clean lines, and put them in slippers. Oh, the devil! You’ll have a jolly time of it and I shall go on dodging bullets in this cruel cold. Perhaps I shan’t dodge every bullet; one, perhaps, will make a mess of me. No, it isn’t fair. I’m hanged if I’m going to take you prisoner and send you back to luxury, when I shall have to go on fighting and risking my life.’
The other had taken off his boot, and held his foot up for the enemy to see.
‘I’ve lost my regiment, and I can’t go fast enough on a foot like that to find it. You must take me prisoner.’
The enemy drew up his trouser, and displayed an ugly wound in his leg.
‘How the devil can I take you prisoner when I’ve got a wound like this in my leg! I’m a helpless man. If you had a logical mind you’d see that I’m your prisoner.’
‘Look here, I’ve no more desire to send you back to luxury than you have to send me. I’ve had a year of this and enough. I want to get out of it.’
‘I want to too. I’ve had eighteen months of it.’
‘Sorry, but you can’t surrender to me after I’ve surrendered to you.’
‘Well, I set you free, and now you can take me prisoner.’
‘That would be ingratitude, and I’m hanged if I do it.’
‘I’ve got a wife and two children at home. I don’t want to be killed; I want to get back to them.’
‘I’ve got a sweetheart and I want to see her. And I may point out to you, seeing that I have lost my comrades, it is quite useless for me to take you prisoner. If you want a rest, go into hospital. You could with that wound. I couldn’t with merely a sore foot.’
The enemy shook his head.
‘They just discharged me as cured,’ he said.
‘And directly you are discharged you cover yourself with glory by taking a prisoner. They’ll make you a corporal.’
‘No thank you; that would increase the time I must stay in the army. One war is quite enough for any man. It knocks the martial spirit out of him. It makes him begin to think that arbitration is not quite so stupid as men say it is.’
The other man began to flap his arms again.
‘We’re wasting time,’ he said. ‘March me to your camp.’
‘My leg’s too bad.’
‘Then I could never take you to our camp. It’s miles away. I’ve lost it. I don’t know where it is.’ He hummed gaily and put his boot on again. ‘Come, I’m ready. March in your dejected prisoner.’
‘With your foot so bad as that I ought to carry you,’ said the enemy. ‘But I’m too weak to carry you, so I can’t take you prisoner.’
‘Oh,’ said the other cheerfully, ‘I’ll hobble ten miles to see a fire.’
‘I could walk twenty if you would make me prisoner.’
‘I surrendered first.’
They thought it over a bit.
‘We’ll toss to see who’s whose prisoner,’ the enemy said.
The other demurred. ‘That’s not altogether regular, is it?’ he asked.
‘Regular be blowed. It’s only fair.’
The enemy drew a coin from his pocket. He tossed and lost.
‘Damn!’ he said, and then cried, ‘Threes.’
‘You might give a fellow a chance – a fellow with a hole in his leg, and a good wife and two children at home.’
‘Very well,’ said the other.
The enemy tossed again and won. He tossed a third time and lost. He cursed loudly and rose to his feet. ‘Here, give me your gun,’ he said irritably. The other handed over his rifle. ‘Come along, prisoner.’
The other got upon his sore feet. He winced with pain as he stepped on, but he answered, ‘with pleasure.’
‘I’m sorry, old fellow, he said, as they limped away together, ‘but really I was the first to surrender.’
The Persons of the Tale – a Fable by RLS
After the 32nd chapter of Treasure Island, two of the puppets strolled out to have a pipe before business should begin again, and met in an open place not far from the story.
“Good-morning, Cap’n,” said the first, with a man- o’-war salute, and a beaming countenance.
“Ah, Silver!” grunted the other. “You’re in a bad way, Silver.”
“Now, Cap’n Smollett,” remonstrated Silver, “dooty is dooty, as I knows, and none better; but we’re off dooty now; and I can’t see no call to keep up the morality business.”
“You’re a damned rogue, my man,” said the Captain.
“Come, come, Cap’n, be just,” returned the other. “There’s no call to be angry with me in earnest. I’m on’y a chara’ter in a sea story. I don’t really exist.”
“Well, I don’t really exist either,” says the Captain, “which seems to meet that.”
“I wouldn’t set no limits to what a virtuous chara’ter might consider argument,” responded Silver. “But I’m the villain of this tale, I am; and speaking as one sea- faring man to another, what I want to know is, what’s the odds?”
“Were you never taught your catechism?” said the Captain. “Don’t you know there’s such a thing as an Author?”
“Such a thing as a Author?” returned John, derisively. “And who better’n me? And the p’int is, if the Author made you, he made Long John, and he made Hands, and Pew, and George Merry—not that George is up to much, for he’s little more’n a name; and he made Flint, what there is of him; and he made this here mutiny, you keep such a work about; and he had tom Redruth shot; and—well, if that’s a Author, give me Pew!”
“Don’t you believe in a future state?” said Smollett. “Do you think there’s nothing but the present story- paper?”
“I don’t rightly know for that,” said Silver; “and I don’t see what it’s got to do with it, anyway. What I know is this: if there is sich a thing as a Author, I’m his favourite chara’ter. He does me fathoms better’n he does you—fathoms, he does. And he likes doing me. He keeps me on deck mostly all the time, crutch and all; and he leaves you measling in the hold, where nobody can’t see you, nor wants to, and you may lay to that! If there is a Author, by thunder, but he’s on my side, and you may lay to it!”
“I see he’s giving you a long rope,” said the Captain. “But that can’t change a man’s convictions. I know the Author respects me; I feel it in my bones; when you and I had that talk at the blockhouse door, who do you think he was for, my man?”
“And don’t he respect me?” cried Silver. “Ah, you should ’a’ heard me putting down my mutiny, George Merry and Morgan and that lot, no longer ago’n last chapter; you’d ’a’ heard something then! You’d ’a’ seen what the Author thinks o’ me! But come now, do you consider yourself a virtuous chara’ter clean through?”
“God forbid!” said Captain Smollett, solemnly. “I am a man that tries to do his duty, and makes a mess of it as often as not. I’m not a very popular man at home, Silver, I’m afraid!” and the Captain sighed.
“Ah,” says Silver. “Then how about this sequel of yours? Are you to be Cap’n Smollett just the same as ever, and not very popular at home, says you? And if so, why, it’s Treasure Island over again, by thunder; and I’ll be Long John, and Pew’ll be Pew, and we’ll have another mutiny, as like as not. or are you to be somebody else? And if so, why, what the better are you? and what the worse am I?”
“Why, look here, my man,” returned the Captain, “I can’t understand how this story comes about at all, can I? I can’t see how you and I, who don’t exist, should get to speaking here, and smoke our pipes for all the world like reality? Very well, then, who am I to pipe up with my opinions? I know the Author’s on the side of good; he tells me so, it runs out of his pen as he writes. Well, that’s all I need to know; I’ll take my chance upon the rest.”
“It’s a fact he seemed to be against George Merry,” Silver admitted, musingly. “But George is little more’n a name at the best of it,” he added, brightening. “And to get into soundings for once. What is this good? I made a mutiny, and I been a gentleman o’ fortune; well, but by all stories, you ain’t no such saint. I’m a man that keeps company very easy; even by your own account, you ain’t, and to my certain knowledge you’re a devil to haze. Which is which? Which is good, and which bad? Ah, you tell me that! Here we are in stays, and you may lay to it!”
“We’re none of us perfect,” replied the Captain. “That’s a fact of religion, my man. All I can say is, I try to do my duty; and if you try to do yours, I can’t compliment you on your success.”
“And so you was the judge, was you?” said Silver, derisively.
“I would be both judge and hangman for you, my man, and never turn a hair,” returned the Captain. “But I get beyond that: it mayn’t be sound theology, but it’s common sense, that what is good is useful too—or there and thereabout, for I don’t set up to be a thinker. Now, where would a story go to if there were no virtuous characters?”
“If you go to that,” replied Silver, “where would a story begin, if there wasn’t no villains?”
“Well, that’s pretty much my thought,” said Captain Smollett. “The Author has to get a story; that’s what he wants; and to get a story, and to have a man like the doctor (say) given a proper chance, he has to put in men like you and Hands. But he’s on the right side; and you mind your eye! You’re not through this story yet; there’s trouble coming for you.”
“What’ll you bet?” asked John.
“Much I care if there ain’t,” returned the Captain. “I’m glad enough to be Alexander Smollett, bad as he is; and I thank my stars upon my knees that I’m not Silver. But there’s the ink-bottle opening. to quarters!”
And indeed the Author was just then beginning to write the words:
A HOME FOR GENIUSES
From hints he had let drop at odd times I knew that Tammas Haggart had a scheme for geniuses, but not until the evening after Jamie’s arrival did I get it out of him. Hendry was with Jamie at the fishing, and it came about that Tammas and I had the pig-sty to ourselves.
“Of course,” he said, when we had got a grip of the subject, “I dount pretend as my ideas is to be followed withoot deeviation, but ondootedly something should be done for geniuses, them bein’ aboot the only class as we do naething for. Yet they’re fowk to be prood o’, an’ we shouldna let them overdo the thing, nor run into debt; na, na. There was Robbie Burns, noo, as real a genius as ever—”
At the pig-sty, where we liked to have more than one topic, we had frequently to tempt Tammas away from Burns.
“Your scheme,” I interposed, “is for living geniuses, of course?”
“Ay,” he said, thoughtfully, “them ‘at’s gone canna be brocht back. Weel, my idea is ‘at a Home should be built for geniuses at the public expense, whaur they could all live thegither, an be decently looked after. Na, no in London; that’s no my plan, but I would hae’t within an hour’s distance o’ London, say five mile frae the market-place, an’ standin’ in a bit garden, whaur the geniuses could walk aboot arm-in-arm, composin’ their minds.”
“You would have the grounds walled in, I suppose, so that the public could not intrude?”
“Weel, there’s a difficulty there, because, ye’ll observe, as the public would support the institootion, they would hae a kind o’ richt to look in. How-some-ever, I daur say we could arrange to fling the grounds open to the public once a week on condition ‘at they didna speak to the geniuses. I’m thinkin’ ‘at if there was a small chairge for admission the Home could be made self-supportin’. Losh! to think ‘at if there had been sic an institootion in his time a man micht
hae sat on the bit dyke and watched Robbie Burns danderin’ roond the—”
“You would divide the Home into suites of rooms, so that every inmate would have his own apartments?”
“Not by no means; na, na. The mair I read aboot geniuses the mair clearly I see as their wy o’ living alane ower muckle is ane o’ the things as breaks doon their health, and makes them meeserable. I’ the Home they would hae a bedroom apiece, but the parlour an’ the other sittin’-rooms would be for all, so as they could enjoy ane another’s company. The management? Oh, that’s aisy. The superintendent would be a medical man appointed by Parliament, and he would hae men-servants to do his biddin’.”
“Not all men-servants, surely?”
“Every one o’ them. Man, geniuses is no to be trusted wi’ womenfolk. No, even Robbie Bu--”
“So he did; but would the inmates have to put themselves entirely in the superintendent’s hands?”
“Nae doubt; an’ they would see it was the wisest thing they could do. He would be careful o’ their health, an’ send them early to bed as weel as hae them up at eight sharp. Geniuses’ healths is always breakin’ doon because of late hours, as in the case o’ the lad wha used often to begin his immortal writin’s at twal o’clock at nicht, a thing ‘at would ruin ony constitootion. But the superintendent would see as they had a tasty supper at nine o’clock — something as agreed wi’ them. Then for half an hour they would quiet their brains readin’ oot aloud, time about, frae sic a book as the ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ an’ the gas would be turned aff at ten precisely.”
“When would you have them up in the morning?”
“At sax in summer an’ seven in winter. The superintendent would see as they were all properly bathed every mornin’, cleanliness bein’ most important for the preservation o’ health.”
“This sounds well; but suppose a genius broke the rules — lay in bed, for instance, reading by the light of a candle after hours, or refused to take his bath in the morning?”
“The superintendent would hae to punish him. The genius would be sent back to his bed, maybe. An’ if he lay lang i’ the mornin’ he would hae to gang withoot his breakfast.”
“That would be all very well where the inmate only broke the regulations once in a way; but suppose he were to refuse to take his bath day after day (and, you know, geniuses are said to be eccentric in that particular), what would be done? You could not starve him; geniuses are too scarce.”
“Na, na; in a case like that he would hae to be reported to the public. The thing would hae to come afore the Hoose of Commons. Ay, the superintendent would get a member o’ the Opposeetion to ask a queistion such as ‘Can the honourable gentleman, the Secretary of State for Home Affairs, inform the Hoose whether it is a fac that Mr. Sic-a-one, the well-known genius, at present resident in the Home for Geniuses, has, contrairy to regulations, perseestently and obstinately refused to change his linen; and, if so, whether the Government proposes to take ony steps in the matter?’ The newspapers would report the discussion next mornin’, an’ so it would be made public withoot onnecessary ootlay.”
“In a general way, however, you would give the geniuses perfect freedom? They could work when they liked, and come and go when they liked?”
“Not so. The superintendent would fix the hours o’ wark, an’ they would all write, or whatever it was, thegither in one large room. Man, man, it would mak a grand draw for a painter-chield, that room, wi’ all the geniuses working awa’ thegither.”
“But when the labors of the day were over the genius would be at liberty to make calls by himself or to run up, say, to London for an hour or two?”
“Hoots no, that would spoil everything. It’s the drink, ye see, as does for a terrible lot o’ geniuses. Even Rob—”
“Alas! yes. But would you have them all teetotalers?”
“What do ye tak me for? Na, na; the superintendent would allow them one glass o’ toddy every nicht, an’ mix it himsel; but he would never get the keys o’ the press, whaur he kept the drink, oot o’ his hands. They would never be allowed oot o’ the gairden either, withoot a man to look after them; an’ I wouldna burthen them wi’ ower muckle pocket-money. Saxpence in the week would be suffeecient.”
“How about their clothes?”
“They would get twa suits a year, wi’ the letter G sewed on the shoulders, so as if they were lost they could be recognized and brocht back.”
“Certainly it is a scheme deserving consideration, and I have no doubt our geniuses would jump at it; but you must remember that some of them would have wives.”
“Ay, an’ some o’ them would hae husbands. I’ve been thinkin’ that oot, an’ I daur say the best plan would be to partition aff a pairt o’ the Home for female geniuses.”
“Would Parliament elect the members?”
“I wouldna trust them. The election would hae to be by competitive examination. Na, I canna say wha would draw up the queistions. The scheme’s juist growin’ i’ my mind, but the mair I think o’t the better I like it.”
A Scottish writer.
PROFESSOR CAMPBELL FRASER.
Not long ago I was back in the Old University — how well I remember pointing it out as the jail to a stranger, who had asked me to show him round. I was in one of the library ante-rooms, when some one knocked, and I looked up, to see Campbell Fraser framed in the doorway. I had not looked on that venerable figure for half a dozen years. I had forgotten all my metaphysics. Yet it all came back with a rush. I was on my feet, wondering if I existed strictly so called.
Calderwood and Fraser had both their followings. The moral philosophers wore an air of certainty, for they knew that if they stuck to Calderwood he would pull them through. You cannot lose yourself in the back garden. But the metaphysicians had their doubts. Fraser led them into strange places, and said he would meet them there again next day. They wandered to their lodgings, and got into difficulties with their landlady for saying that she was only an aggregate of sense phenomena. Fraser was rather a hazardous cure for weak intellects. Young men whose anchor had been certainty of themselves went into that class floating buoyantly on the sea of facts, and came out all adrift — on the sea of theory — in an open boat — rudderless — one oar — the boat scuttled. How could they think there was any chance for them, when the professor was not even sure of himself? I see him rising in a daze from his chair and putting his hands through his hair. “Do I exist,” he said, thoughtfully, “strictly so called?”
The students (if it was the beginning of the session) looked a little startled. This was a matter that had not previously disturbed them. Still, if the professor was in doubt, there must be something in it. He began to argue it out, and an uncomfortable silence held the room in awe. If he did not exist, the chances were that they did not exist either. It was thus a personal question. The professor glanced round slowly for an illustration.
“Am I a table?” A pained look travelled over the class. Was it just possible that they were all tables? It is no wonder that the students who do not go to the bottom during their first month of metaphysics begin to give themselves airs strictly so called. In the privacy of their room at the top of the house, they pinch themselves to see if they are still there.
He would, I think, be a sorry creature who did not find something to admire in Campbell Fraser. Metaphysics may not trouble you, as it troubles him, but you do not sit under the man without seeing his transparent honesty and feeling that he is genuine. In appearance and in habit of thought he is an ideal philosopher, and his communings with himself have lifted him to a level of serenity that is worth struggling for. Of all the arts professors in Edinburgh, he is probably the most difficult to understand, and students in a hurry have called his lectures childish. If so, it may be all the better for them. For the first half of the hour, they say, he tells you what he is going to do, and for the second half he revises. Certainly he is vastly explanatory, but then he is not so young as they are, and so he has his doubts. They are so cock-sure that they wonder to see him hesitate. Often there is a mist on the mountain when it is all clear in the valley.
Fraser’s great work is his edition of Berkeley, a labour of love that should live after him. He has two Berkeleys, the large one and the little one, and, to do him justice, it was the little one he advised us to consult. I never read the large one myself, which is in a number of monster tomes, but I often had a look at it in the library, and I was proud to think that an Edinburgh professor was the editor. When Glasgow men came through to talk of their professors, we showed them the big Berkeley, and after that they were reasonable. There was one man in my year who really began the large Berkeley, but after a time he was missing, and it is believed that some day he will be found flattened between the pages of the first volume.
The “Selections” was the text-book we used in the class. It is sufficient to prove that Berkeley wrote beautiful English. I am not sure that any one has written such English since. We have our own “stylists,” but how self-conscious they are after Berkeley! It is seven years since I opened my “Selections,” but I see that I was once more of a metaphysician than I have been giving myself credit for. The book is scribbled over with posers in my handwriting about dualism and primary realities. Some of the comments are in short-hand, which I must at one time have been able to read, but all are equally unintelligible now. Here is one of my puzzlers: “Does B here mean impercipient and unperceived subject or conscious and percipient subject?” Observe the friendly B. I dare say further on I shall find myself referring to the professor as F. I wonder if I ever discovered what B meant. I could not now tell what I meant, myself.
As many persons are aware, the “Selections” consist of Berkeley’s text with the professor’s notes thereon. The notes are explanatory of the text, and the student must find them an immense help. Here, for instance, is a note: “Phenomenal or sense dependent existence can be substantiated and caused only by a self-conscious spirit, for otherwise there could be no propositions about it expressive of what is conceivable; on the other hand, to affirm that phenomenal or sense dependent existence, which alone we know, and which alone is conceivable, is, or even represents, an inconceivable non- phenomenal or abstract existence, would be to affirm a contradiction in terms.” There we have it.
As a metaphysician I was something of a disappointment. I began well, standing, if I recollect aright, in the three examinations, first, seventeenth, and seventy-seventh. A man who sat beside me — man was the word we used — gazed at me reverently when I came out first, and I could see by his eye that he was not sure whether I existed properly so called. By the second exam his doubts had gone, and by the third he was surer of me than of himself. He came out fifty-seventh, this being the grand triumph of his college course. He was the same whose key translated cras donaberis hædo “To-morrow you will be presented with a kid,” but who, thinking that a little vulgar, refined it down to “To-morrow you will be presented with a small child.”
In the metaphysics class I was like the fountains in the quadrangle, which ran dry toward the middle of the session. While things were still looking hopeful for me, I had an invitation to breakfast with the professor. If the fates had been so propitious as to forward me that invitation, it is possible that I might be a metaphysician to this day, but I had changed my lodgings, and, when I heard of the affair, all was over. The professor asked me to stay behind one day after the lecture, and told me that he had got his note back with “Left: no address” on it. “However,” he said, “you may keep this,” presenting me with the invitation for the Saturday previously. I mention this to show that even professors have hearts. That letter is preserved with the autographs of three editors, none of which anybody can read.
There was once a medical student who came up to my rooms early in the session, and I proved to him in half an hour that he did not exist. He got quite frightened, and I can still see his white face as he sat staring at me in the gloaming. This shows what metaphysics can do. He has recovered, however, and is sheep-farming now, his examiners never having asked him the right questions.
The last time Fraser ever addressed me was when I was capped. He said, “I congratulate you, Mr. Smith,” and one of the other professors said, “I congratulate you, Mr. Fisher.” My name is neither Smith nor Fisher, but no doubt the thing was kindly meant. It was then, however, that the professor of metaphysics had his revenge on me. I had once spelt Fraser with a “z.”
A leaf from the diary of a walking tour.
First published Sept 1897
It was at Saussay-les-Ecuis, in the dead, accursed centre of the Norman plain, that we first saw the Impartial Hand. It had been a tiring day, and the wind of March, charged with dry and dessicated dust from a hundred miles of ploughland, had been pressing against our temples and aridly choking our throats till, as my companion the Monk expressed it, he did not think that all the Ganges and old Nile could ever make him feel moist inside again.
Along miles and miles of straight and pitiless road we had trudged dourly and sullenly. In the morning it was our custom to say wonderful things concerning the artistic value of the wide plain lying edgeways to our eyes, with its ploughlands alternately emerald and Venetian red – spotted here and there with the keen viridian of the springing flax, and over all the great flamboyant sky springing illimitably aloft. At least, that was how I put it in my note-book, while the Monk (whose line of business was other) took out his porte-crayon and jotted the whole effect down in the manner of an ancient illumination
‘Right patiently in cloister nook y-wrought.’
For the Monk is no friar of orders, grey, but a young brush-man of name and repute, presently (and till he can reach the Associateship) at Sturm and Drang with the Academy and all its works. Only since with his physiognomy the cowl and quarterstaff of Friar Tuck would mightily accord, for love and euphony the Monk we name him.
In face of the station of Saussay-les-Ecuis there cowers the Hotel de la Gare. Now it has been my lot to tramp the brown earth in many countries, and to note the invariable badness of Hotels de la Gare, but never – no, never – was it my ill fortune to strike a worse hotel than the Railway Restaurant of Saussay-les-Ecuis. Humbly we asked for coffee; we suggested bread; we craved butter as a boon. Coffee we could have; bread, perhaps; as for butter! The tired, draggled woman only laughed. Messieurs must have come from a richer country than Normandy. There was not so much as a pat of butter nearer than Etrépagny. Well, then, coffee let it be! I fell to dreaming over my note-book, but the Monk, who from an art-student had made his own coffee, sat erect with arched nostril and supercilious eyebrow on the cock to detect any malfeasance in the manufacture of his beloved beverage.
Suddenly I looked up and found him on his feet.
‘Coffee Extract – as I’m a living sinner! I’m off! He cried. And withal he was out.
I rose more slowly, and, being thus deserted, I quailed before the indignant gaze of the tired woman, who came to the door with the bottle of syrupy extract in her fingers, holding it open and unashamed. The scowl of the hulking landlord also was upon me.
I hastily pulled out a piece of ten sous, and, laying it on the counter, I explained that my friend had long been subject to these attacks, and that it was best for all parties that I should make the best of my way up the road after him.
When I reached him, the Monk turned sternly upon me, quite suddenly and when I was least expecting it.
‘Well,’ he said, ‘did it run to a franc this time?’
‘No,’ I replied, strong in my conscious innocence, ‘it did not run to a franc.’
‘Half of it then, I suppose. You are a ninny!’ were the uncalled for words he used. But as I did not know what a ninny was, my feelings were less hurt than might have been anticipated.
Then we looked for a place to sit down and hunt the stray crumblings of the morning’s bread out of our knapsacks. But of all the inhospitable places in the world, commend me to Saussay-les-Ecuis. There was not so much as a green bank to sit down upon. Straight, irreconcilable, dusty walls bounded everything. A farmer came truculently towards us as we stood peeping cautiously in, and shut the high wooden doors of his yard in our faces – like one who would say, ‘Move on! No tramps allowed here.’
And indeed as I looked at the Monk, I did not greatly wonder. For from cap to boots the dust had covered all. It was hanging like cobwebs from eyebrow and moustache. It lurked in hitherto unsuspecting wrinkles of check and chin. I have seldom looked upon a more disgraceful spectacle than the Monk.
I found that he also had been regarding me with a long and rapt attention, and when finally he finished at my shoes, he made a remark.
‘Lord,’ he said, ‘after all I don’t wonder that old Jacques Bonhomme back there shut his gate.’
We were therefore in a humble frame of mind when we set out to seek a resting-place for our weary feet. I thought that if only we could have a wash, we might manage to dry ourselves on the inside of our coats, as indeed we had been doing for the past week.
‘Ha, a bridge!’ I cried as glad as if it had been the Grand Hotel of the City of Paris. ‘We can rest on it, at least, even if we cannot get a wash!’
‘You may,’ said the Monk, who was a little in front, ‘but as it is a bridge over a common drain, I am going on.
Finally, after many disappointments, all meekly we sat down back to back for mutual support on a mound of earth raked together by the art of the district cantonier, the guardian angel of the roads of France. Sadly I jotted down moralizings upon the transient state of man in my note-book, while the more cheerful Monk commenced a sketch of the rear works of a calf which was leaning too exhausted to stand upon its legs, against an apple tree on the other side of the road. Just as he was putting in the sweep of the tail, the calf whisked a fly off its left hind foot and walked away out of sight. At this point the Monk made a remark, but as he spoke with a pencil in his mouth, I cannot say that I could more than guess the general sense of his observation. It appeared to be an invocation to the calf in the Phonecian manner, ‘O calf, live for ever!’ or something to that effect.
But I am forgetting the Impartial Hand. By this time we were ready to fall into his clutches. Affliction and the scorning of rude men had chastened the Monk, and as for me, I am meek by nature.
A gendarme on his rural rounds was coming up the road. We did not doubt that he had called upon our inhospitable but wholly excusable Jacques Bonhomme and had imbibed his suspicions. The Monk did not share my idea that it migth be productive of good copy to be arrested. He intimated, in a language peculiar to him, that he was not taking any in his.
So, shutting up the unfinished sketch of the right hind quarter of the fickle Norman calf, we trudged down the road, keeping well ahead of the gendarme, and before we had gone far we were rewarded for our pertinacity.
For there proved to be another café in Saussay, blessed be the keeper thereof – and a douce and agreeable old lady is Madame Lavenue. At first I fear it must be confessed that Madame did not like us; but, thrusting the Monk behind me, I smiled and volunteered explanations. We were gentlemen of Scotland travelling for our pleasure. This we stuck to wherever we went, and to our profit. For the memory of the Auld Alliance is not yet dead in French hearts, and at least anything is better than to proclaim oneself English. ‘Could we have a meal of any sort?’ we asked Madame.
She stole a look round my defences and eyed the Monk, who was looking with desire upon the ranged bottles on the shining little bar.
She shook her head a little sadly. ‘But no,’ she said, ‘this is only a café – I do not serve meals. There is a restaurant at the Gare. You will be served there.’
I heard the irony in her tones, and in a moment I knew that I had her.
‘Ah, Madame, ‘I went on, shrugging my shoulders as best I could, ‘but we have been there. And that is the reason we come to Madame to cast ourselves on her mercies – an omelette, sardines, bread, a little wine, anything, but not the Restaurant de la Gare any more.
At this Madame Lavenue smiled. I looked about the shining tables. I praised the pretty crimson window blinds, the clean sanded tiles. I even looked the admiration I could not speak for the snowy goffered cap which became Madame so admirably.
‘Monsieur is very agreeable. I shall be pleased to do my best for Monsieur,’ she said at last – ‘and for his friend!’
So to obviate delays we were served with a bottle of her best wine at tenpence a bottle, which we paid for on the spot, just to let her see the colour of our money. Then at a pump in the yard we removed as much as possible of the caked Norman dust. We had scarcely returned to our wine when the door opened and the Impartial Hand came in. He sat down at a table and rapped sharply in the manner of a habitué with the heel of a tumbler. He was a brigand of a man, lean, haggard, disreputable, and from the moment of his entry he eyed us openly with much interest. The Monk and I were talking about our several boyhoods. And from what he told me I am glad I did not happen to be a master in any of the schools which the Monk adorned during the chequered period of his novitiate. While we sipped the red wine, he recalled incidents of fire and flood and barring out, and I jotted them down in my note-book, for one never knows what may come to be useful.
The Impartial Hand watched us keenly, dripping the water over the sugar into his absinthe till the green imp winked up at him from the bottom of the tumbler.
Then, having achieved this, the Impartial Hand spoke.
‘You are speaking English!’ he said, but in his native tongue.
‘We are- perhaps you speak English yourself, sir!’ I answered.
‘But no,’ he protested in haste: ‘yet because I have so very much travelled, I understand the English very well. You have been speaking to your brother of the places you have visited – Le Havre, Rouen, Paris. You have been entering in your book of expenses how much each shall pay. You have been writing down the things you have seen, in order to send the account of the voyage to those at home. Aha! Am I not right?’
We did not contradict him, and the Impartial Hand smiled and nodded. He had never been out of France himself, but he knew all other countries, and we were great travellers and had much voyaged. As for him, he was a dealer in pork, and had come to Saussay to buy pigs. But he had had the misfortune to leave his purse behind him, and such were the inhospitable habits of the country that even for this paltry glass of absinthe Madame might refuse to credit his explanation, and so place him in a painful dilemma. Could we – in fact, strictly a loan.
The Monk kicked me severely under the table, but I thought a franc might be worse spent than on the Impartial Hand. So with great pomp and circumstance he first of all pocketed the coin and then transcribed my address into a very dirty pocket-book. Then, with a bow worthy of a court, he informed me that I had rendered him one of the services which bind the hearts of men of the world together, and which do credit to our common humanity.
At this moment our modest repast was announced. Madame Lavenue appeared carrying a large dish with an omelette curving a noble bulk across it. Her little grand-daughter held the door of the kitchen open in order that the procession might approach with due dignity; then she herself followed with the salad. Madame set it down before us with a flourish, and then stood smiling and rubbing her hands, expectant of compliments.
But before we could express our gratification, the Impartial Hand interrupted. Never, it appeared, had he been more surprised. These very viands spread before us were the nutriment which had regaled his innocent childhood. Scarcely could he look upon the omelette of Madame Lavenue without being reminded of his own mother. He was moved in the tenderest emotions by the sardines, for his father had been a fisherman, and often in his unconscious infancy he had been cradled among the boxes of the silvery spoil. When he uttered the words, ‘Sardines in oil!’ emotion choked his utterance. We must pardon him.
We did. But it became a very evident necessity to invite this bright orphan waif to share these dainties, and this, in spite of the Monk’s warning, I did.
Then it was that the Impartial Hand justified himself, and showed his quality. Madame Lavenue could not produce those souveniers of his early youth quick enough. She ran out of eggs, and was compelled to fall back upon a kind of pancake locally flavoured with a conserve of apples. But this, it appeared, was equally one of the cherished reminiscences of our guest’s various childhood. And all the time he kept hard at work, shovelling the tear-stained mementoes into his mouth with the blade of his knife, and pursuing them down his throat with the red wine of Madame Lavenue.
Meanwhile the Monk, with a countenance like a stone wall, continued his geographical gazetteer, to which the Impartial Hand kept nodding as often as he discerned the names of towns or countries of which he had heard.
‘I haven’t been in Africa – no more have I dwelt in the marble halls of Timbuctoo’ thus the Monk with the air of one who furnishes important and deeply serious information – ‘but not in Chicago nor Pekin, not in Constantinople, in Algiers, nor yet in Regent’s Park or the Kyles of Bute, could I have found so complete an ass as this nodding Jerusalem cuckoo!’
And the Impartial Hand, who understood English, bowed in approval of the sentiment he was so far from comprehending. And all the while the Monk looked into his countenance with a smile, calm and bland and beneficent.
As Madame’s wine mounted to his brain and the absinthe mingled with it, the Impartial Hand gave us an account of his life and pursuits. He was a piano tuner by profession, and came from Marseilles. He had long been a wanderer without house or home. He had a beautiful mansion at Etrépagny, to which he was returning that night. He had (he just remembered) a wife and four children. But they would welcome us, if we would only favour him by accepting his hospitality. Then he put his head on his hand and sighed. In five minutes he had forgotten his many occupations and nativities. Once more he was an orphan. His father was a large landed proprietor in Alsace. For this reason he was able to speak excellent German, although for the present (owing to some strange mischance connected with the watercress not agreeing with him) he had forgotten the German word for bread and water, and considered that I was complimenting him when I called him a ‘dummer Kalbskopf.’ But this all had been swept away by the war. The Prussian hordes had killed his little brother of two years old, and carried the corpse off on one of their lances; his sister – but here again the emotions of the Impartial Hand proved too much for him, and he had to retreat upon the second bottle of Madame Lavenue’s red win, in order to express his deadly intentions with regard to every German in the Fatherland.
It was dusking to a quiet, ruddy dusk when at last we shouldered our knapsacks and set forward on the way to the town of Les Ecuis. The wind had fallen after the arid and vexing day. Right cheerfully we paid our bill, which amounted to less than five francs, and included three bottles of excellent wine, and all that the early recollections of the Impartial Hand had induced him to secrete in the inside of his blouse when he supposed that we were not looking.
But he could not think of deserting us. He would accompany us at least as far as the restaurant of the Gare, and there we should drink – at his expense.
But as soon as our feet touched the roadway the Monk and I fell with one accord into a clean heel-and-toe five mile gait, which in a trice left the Impartial Hand so far behind that he soon became no more than a voice crying tearfully in an unseen dusky wilderness behind.
Still, he was the Child of Misfortune. Had he not drunk with us? Had he not clasped our hands as comrades? And now we were deserting him. We would have none of his hospitality. And yet his family was noble – his own career, before the evil demon crossed it, far from undistinguished. Marshall MacMahon had on one occasion said of him – If we would only tarry he would tell us a tale worth telling.
But Les Ecuis lay before us far down that dusky road, which cut straight as a lance –shaft across the plain towards the Seine. Saussay dropped swiftly behind us, and so we had looked our last, please the deities, upon our friend and guest, the Impartial Hand.
‘Do you know,’ said the Monk, after a pause, ‘I don’t want to be censorious, but I shouldn’t be surprised if that fellow was a liar!’
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